Raab said Johnson was in good spirits. We weren't buying it

Dominic Raab said Boris Johnson was in good spirits. We weren’t buying it: HENRY DEEDES watches the Foreign Secretary’s Downing Street briefing

What a paddling pool of thoughts Dominic Raab must have been going through shortly after 7pm last night. This was moment that no de facto deputy leader ever fully prepares for. 

They may be informed of their duties should they find themselves unexpectedly plonked into the hot seat, but that is mere protocol. 

They never actually expect it to happen. Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing but all did not seem entirely hunky dory at the Downing Street press briefing barely three hours earlier. 

As persistent questions about the Prime Minister’s health rained in, Mr Raab’s head began to throb. It does this during moments of mild duress. 

Dominic Raab statement on Boris Johnson’s health tonight. Raab will deputise for the DM

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street, London, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital for tests as his coronavirus symptoms persist

He tried to reassure his audience that Boris Johnson had gone into hospital as a mere ‘precaution’ and had enjoyed a ‘comfortable’ night there, whatever that meant. Time and time again, Mr Raab announced that the PM was ‘in good spirits’. 

He was sticking to a tightly rehearsed script. 

But like any manque actor, his performance did not convince. 

As a viewer, one was tempted to shout at the television: What’s bothering you, minister? Westminster’s lobby hacks certainly weren’t buying it. 

How could Boris be orchestrating the country from a hospital bed? 

Oh, he is, said Mr Raab, his lips forming a defensive smile. 

He was ‘in charge’ running a ‘fullthrottle Government’. He was also ‘getting regular updates’. 

Eventually, Mr Raab let slip that the last time they had actually spoken was Saturday. Hmm. 

Something didn’t add up. 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street, London, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital for tests as his coronavirus symptoms persist

Boris Johnson looked worse for wear when he participated in the ‘Clap for Carers’ last week

The Foreign Secretary had kicked off the briefing with the usual array of figures, including the gloom-inducing death toll. 

As ever, almost every sentence was punctuated with the mantra for everyone to ‘Stay inside, protect the NHS and save lives’. 

Mr Raab seemed perplexed. There was something about the way his margarine-soft speech was accompanied by eerily long silences. 

‘The Government remains united,’ he said, shiftily glancing from side to side. 

Why this needed pointing out wasn’t clear. It only seemed to reinforce suggestions that something was amiss. 

Needless to say, there is no chance of the lockdown ending any time soon. 

‘The risk right now is if we take our focus off the strategy, which is beginning to work, we won’t get through this peak as soon as we want to,’ he said. 

Joining Mr Raab was the Government’s deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean, who said little to inspire much optimism. 

We were shown a graph that apparently highlighted the virus’s ‘complicated behaviour’ of late, which she told us she and her team were watching very carefully. 

Translation: We still don’t quite understand how this thing behaves. 

Also present was the Government’s chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty. 

He’s the Cluedo character lookalike in the NHS adverts that pop up on telly every two seconds telling us all to stay indoors. 

This was his first appearance after being incommunicado since contracting symptoms of the virus around the same time as Boris. 

But the professor insisted that he knew no more than anyone else about the Prime Minister’s medical condition. 

The only advice he had given Boris over his illness, he said, was to get himself tested in the first place. 

‘I am absolutely not going to discuss any individual patient and I do not have the full details, nor should I,’ he added tartly. 

It was good to see old Whitty back. Unlike Mr Raab, there is something reassuring about him. He seems very hard to impress. 

The sort of fellow who, after being presented with a beautiful cut-glass decanter as a leaving gift, takes more interest in the packaging. 

Of course, with the country desperate for some direction, what we really need is our Prime Minister. After last night’s shocking news, we must now pray for his safe return to the job. 

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